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Government launches prize to inspire young engineers

An international engineering award has been launched today to celebrate the individuals whose work inspires and advances society. 

To be awarded biennially, the £1m Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is open to an individual or team of up to three people directly responsible for an advance in engineering that has led to ‘significant international public benefit’.

According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, the prize is the result of a growing realisation in the worlds of business, engineering and policy of the need for a pioneering initiative based in the UK to focus attention on engineering worldwide. 

A number of major engineering companies have donated to an endowment fund, which is being managed by an independent charitable trust, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation, chaired by Lord Browne of Madingley FREng FRS. The Royal Academy of Engineering will deliver the prize on behalf of the trust, with the first prize being awarded in 2012.

Speaking at the launch event in London’s Science Museum, Lord Browne said the award should make people aware of the importance and enjoyment of engineering so that they are inspired by, and aspire to be, engineers.

‘As the bridge between scientific discovery and commercial application, engineering feeds and clothes us, and enables us to work, travel and communicate,’ said Lord Browne. ‘But too often the engineers behind the most brilliant innovations remain hidden. The Queen Elizabeth Prize is aimed towards changing that. It will celebrate, on an international scale, the very best engineering in the world.’

Prime minister David Cameron added that companies such as Arup, Rolls-Royce and projects such as Crossrail remain relatively anonymous in the public psyche, despite Britain’s rich industrial past.

‘High-skilled, high-value manufacturing and engineering should be a central part of our long-term future,’ he said. ‘I hope this prize will go some way towards inspiring and exciting young people about engineering, so that they dream of becoming engineers as they once did in the age of Stephenson and Brunel.’

‘This prize is timely and symbolic,’ said Stephen Tetlow, chief executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. ‘Engineering has been in the shadows for far too long. You can have as many Oscars and Nobel prizes as you want, but unless you have engineers, the essentials of life fail. 

‘Engineering holds the key to unlocking the massive critical challenges facing the world today — from overpopulation to climate change. Our lives depend on it.

‘We need a new generation of great engineers more than ever. The Queen Elizabeth Prize will inspire the new wave of leading engineering minds that we so urgently need.’

The appointment of an international judging panel will be established by February 2012 and nominations for the first award will close in July 2012.

Readers' comments (7)

  • Splendid initiative. The first step toward an Equivalent of the Nobel Prize for engineering? We really need more high qualified, capable, and brilliant engineers, more than ever. And inspire young people to become this.
    The current years will be perceived from future generation as a pivotal point in history: toward an ideal society (as in Start Trek) or toward the end of civilization? It's also (an mainly) up to engineers!
    PS I am an engineer, and I am also a lecturer, so this description is not completely unbiased...

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  • Lord Browne was asked on BBC radio 4 would describe guy that comes to fix his washing machine an Engineer.
    He said yes he would !
    What is the point of the I.mech E.?
    Why bother spending 4 years at university undertaking a course just as difficult as architecture, medicine, legal etc and then undertaking further technical specialism training to end up being paid a pittance and having no stature in society ?
    Without engineers, real engineers, society would have nothing !

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  • This is fantastic news! I am personally studying towards (B Eng) engineering degree with the Open University, which I would recommend to anyone who is thinking of undertaking a degree in engineering

    It would be excellent to see more younger or older engineering students being involved with this fascinating subject

    I have added the “older” age group as many of them have developed some excellent engineering skills over the years, and therefore we should not just rely on the younger undergraduate engineers in my personal opinion, as the more mature students could have an even better solution to an engineering problem

    So I personally feel that it could be better to have a mix of people from all age groups, as many of them could have many years experience servicing and repairing washing machines, heating system, electrical systems, cars, aircraft, D.I.Y skills or commissioning combustion systems

    I am not saying that any prospective engineering student should come from this type of engineering background, as we can all play our part in engineering in one way or another

    We all have strengths and weaknesses, so some people could have excellent Math, Physics or Chemistry skills, and others have better hands on skills

    Therefore I would say that the best approach is to have a good balance in all areas of engineering (academic and hands on skills)

    One other area which highlighted an issue to me, was when me and my young family were on holiday, and the entertainer asked all of the children (4 years – 12years) what they would want to do for a job, and I am sure many of you will know the answer……..Yes you have guessed it, most of them wanted to be a pop star! “Not one of them wanted to undertake a career in engineering”

    Ok I know they are all very young, but I find this hard to understand myself as I did like to know “how stuff works” from a very young age, and as I have got older can it be made better, cheaper, or would it work better in another location?

    I have to admit that in some areas of engineering it can be tough to find a solution to a problem, but this is what makes engineering such a good and enjoyable subject

    We all want better products in life, but to manufacture new products or to keep the existing one going we need engineers!

    So fingers crossed this award will encourage many people to undertake a course or degree in engineering, as I have said earlier I am studying engineering with the Open University, which is fantastic value for money, as well as having excellent staff to support your study

    The main benefit with the Open University is that you can still do your day/night shift, and therefore you are still earning an income from your day/night shift, as you are learning new skills in engineering

    So in my personal opinion this is a win, win situation for any engineering undergraduate, as he or she should not rack up a huge student debt with the Open University

    Ok it can take twice as long to complete the degree compared to a conventional University, but the all important debt should be kept to a minimum

    If any prospective engineering student is reading this post, please note that there is financial support under certain circumstances with the Open University, but this would be best to get in contact with the financial support office at the Open University

    If there is anyone thinking of undertaking an engineering degree, I would say, go for it, as it has helped me enjoy my day job even more, as well as better understand how the product was made and works

    I hope this information helps?

    And “Who dares Wins - The Queen Elizabeth Award For Engineering”

    All the best

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  • Will this "prize" only be presented after much squabbling about whether the submitted idea is infact of "significant international public benefit".
    If the Chairman himself is not clear on whether he is looking at Engineering or a Sevice supplier, I don't hold up much hope for this initiative.

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  • @Lord Brown
    The guy fixing the washing machine would be a technician, trained to understand the specifics of washing machines and their typical failings.
    An engineer could also fix the washing machine, but first he'd have to understand it........ and then he'd fix it.
    It would take a little longer, but thereafter he'd be up to speed.
    The major difference is that the engineer could apply that analysis to pretty much any electro/hydraulic/mechanical system, unlike the technician.
    Hence why industry needs engineers, even when (and because) they don't realize it.
    How do you describe colour to the blind?
    How do you suggest to business that they could benefit from engineering excellence ....... when you have washing machine fixers being described as engineers?

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  • I personally work with various oil boiler systems electronics/ hydraulics/ mechanical components/ polymer storage tanks and customers, and I am still a technician!

    So I would say that I am only 25% of an engineer

    However, an engineer is an individual who can design and build a product at a reasonable cost, comply with intellectual property rights, as well as understand all of its working components. The engineer should also understand what is needed from a product, as well as it potential market place

    So if you have an individual which understands the above then you are an engineer in my personal opinion, and it is for this reason why I take my hat off to every engineer around the world

    A multi skilled individual that can put their hands to building so many products

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  • I became aware that politicians and Downing Street do not comprehend the great worth to the nation of Engineers several years ago. To see the prime minister, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband unveiling the £1 million prize for The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is sheer hypocrisy based upon first-hand experience on the part of our politicians.
    I say this because it is a fact that a British citizen and a little old white haired great-grandfather figure now deceased and hardly known in the United Kingdom, even though he did most of his revolutionary engineering work there, was not seen fit to be knighted by our politicians in 2000. To put this person into perspective, this solitary engineer literally revolutionised engineering sciences throughout the world and where his great work has now entered into most of the sciences, saving countless lives in the process every day. His name was the late Professor Dr (mult.) John Argyris, the modern inventor of the Finite Element Method and where Professor Ray Clough, regarded as the most eminent structural engineer in the USA stated this in his 1960 publication and where he first coined the phrase Finite Element Method. Indeed Clough stated in his ground breaking publication that it was the Argyris Method’, ceding the FEM to Argyris in perpetuity. But to put Argyris into perspective the following world changing events and engineering feats amongst a few would not have happened including the 1969 moon landing, the determination that the ‘shuttle’ would be safe upon re-entry and where planes, cars, dams, trains and buildings etc would not be as safe as they are today. Indeed Argyris’s work has most probably saved tens of millions of lives indirectly over the last 50 years through his unparalleled research work.
    But the greatest reason why Argyris should have been knighted by our politicians is because in 1943 after the British airlifted him from Germany via Lisbon, he single-handily determined at the Royal Aeronautical Society (working then for the British Government) that our aircraft design data sheets had up to 80% faults in their structural design. In this respect the Establishment (non-engineers who thought that Argyris was trying to destroy them) did not believe him and it was only because our aircraft industry at the time said that Argyris was right that they were eventually overturned. One has therefore to put this ‘single’ enormous engineering design feat into perspective also. How many allied lives were saved by our planes being far safer considering that tens, if not hundreds of thousands of allied paratroopers alone landed safely on mainland Europe before and after D-Day it has to be asked? Indeed if we had continued to send highly defective aircraft to liberate Europe, how many would have been killed by faulty engineering than Nazi bullets it has to be asked? But again, in 2000 the political Establishment refused to Knight him even though he had since the end of WW2 developed the greatest design invention in the history of global engineering. Therefore not until politicians really understand the worth of engineers what they say and do will be just mere words and a complete political charade.
    Argyris did of course receive the highest national engineering awards from 17 nations, so what did they see that our politicians did not?

    Dr David Hill
    World Innovation Foundation

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